A highly-publicized education plan that allowed charter schools and outside organizations to bid on new schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District will undergo a major shift if an agreement is reached with United Teachers Los Angeles.
LAUSD’s Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Aug. 30, contingent upon an agreement with the teachers union that will give district applicants first consideration at bidding on and operating new schools.
LAUSD District 4 Board Member Steve Zimmer initiated a resolution that was later expanded upon by his board colleague Tamar Galatzan, culminating in the unanimous vote.
“(This) vote honors the balanced commitment our board has to our children and our school family,” Zimmer said. “I am confident that our partners will step forward to make the changes that will allow us to move forward collectively, once and for all.”
The original plan, which was passed Aug. 26, 2009, allowed independent operators, charter and private schools to assume control of what the district calls “failing schools” and was championed by then LAUSD Board Vice President Yolie Flores Aguilar, an ally of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
To date, more than 100 schools have participated in the initiative.
“This motion stipulates wide-ranging reforms to be agreed upon if we are going to enact the resolution,” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said he was looking forward to working with LAUSD officials over the next two months.
“We’re eager to begin bargaining, because we want the best outcome for everyone,” he said.
Green Dot Public Schools Executive Director Marco Petruzzi said his organization is disappointed with the board’s vote but sees the caveat of having UTLA agree to a new collective bargaining agreement was a good outcome of the board’s decision.
“Given that (the motion) passed, it passed with the right conditions,” Petruzzi told The Argonaut.
Villaraigosa campaigned for the measure on the Westside in 2009, where he criticized the teachers union at a community forum in Venice organized by the Parent Revolution and cast them as obstacles to school reform.
“It’s the whole system,” the mayor told the audience. “But they are one of the biggest obstacles to reform, the most powerful defenders of the status quo and I think the most regressive teachers union in the United States.”
Eric DeSobe, who works for KIPP L.A., a charter school, viewed the previous direction of the initiative as a conduit to students receiving an opportunity to get the best possible education,
“I believe the recent amendment to public school choice deviates from that intent. Students now may not get the best of what is available. Instead they get adult agendas and politics,” said DeSobe, who is also the president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council.
“Schools don’t have to be charter, but they must operate with an urgency and high accountability, which is what the Public School Choice was created to do.”
Petruzzi said he interpreted Zimmer’s initial motion as a way to encourage charter schools to bid on chronically under-performing schools, which the school district labels “turnaround schools.” But the Green Dot executive believes that not all of the board members have made it easy for charters like his to seek out those schools.
“We have been vilified by some members of the board for taking over some of the low performing schools in LAUSD,” Petruzzi asserted. “That’s not the way that you encourage charters to go after turnaround schools.”
Zimmer’s motion was not intended to specifically encourage charter schools to look at schools that have not been performing at high levels consistently, but that is one consequence of his motion, according to his office.
Petruzzi said he does not consider Zimmer to be one of the LAUSD board members who have vilified Green Dot. “I want to believe that he is acting with the best intentions,” he said. “Zimmer does seem to appreciate that we are trying to serve all kinds of students and that we are very transparent in what we’re doing.”
Green Dot has had success at Locke High School in South Los Angeles, where it moved in four years ago and had its first graduating class this spring.
No schools on the Westside are viewed by LAUSD as turnaround schools, but the school district has called some under- performing, despite recent gains in tests scores by several elementary and middle schools in Westchester, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Venice, school that Zimmer represents.
Green Dot is not seeking to take over any of these schools but will have a sixth grade class on the campus of Cowan Elementary in Westchester. The charter organization will also be bidding on a land lease on the campus of Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista in the fall.
Sarah Auerswald, who has an older son enrolled in a charter school and another in third grade at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista said there are often differences of opinion between LAUSD’s and a parent’s version of an “underperforming” school.
“I think in general, having had kids at what was termed an ‘under-performing’ school for years, I feel like the district often doesn’t see what can turn a school around right under its nose,” Auerswald noted. “Or if they do see what can help a school, it’s just so hard to effect real change at the school site from downtown at Beaudry (Avenue, where LAUSD headquarters is located).”
Grand View, which has the district’s longest running Spanish immersion language program, has steadily improved on its test scores, gaining 10 points on the Academic Performance Index scores this year, as many of the elementary schools in Zimmer’s district have. They also have a parent group that is highly engaged with its teachers, which they displayed in June at the immersion program’s 20th anniversary.
Auerswald believes that test scores should not be the single determining factor of a school’s vitality.
“If your kids come home happy and the school community is thriving, how can that be ‘under-performing?’” she asked. “Of course I know that academics are important, especially for kids whose first language is not English. “But to call a school under-performing labels it in a way that makes other parents and members of the community discount the school out of hand, when there might be something wonderful going on in so many other ways.”
DeSobe does not think the board’s reversal was due to recent findings that LAUSD schools were outperforming some charter schools, as well as schools championed by Villaraigosa.
“I don’t think the recent action was a reaction to charters but rather a strong backlash from the status quo who are defensively protecting their own interests,” he said. “Again, Public School Choice initiative was and should be about the how, not the who.”
Fletcher, who recently took over the helm of the teachers union from A.J, Duffy, said the union has always been concerned with the direction the board had taken with the Public School Choice vote two years ago.
“We’ve always had a lot of concerns about the new properties,” he said. “We’re pleased to see the process become a little more rational.”